Are 140 characters too many for traditional marketers to handle?

Posted by Paul Furiga on 11/15/12 8:33 AM

We’re getting to that time of year when self-reflection and navel-gazing begin to consume just about every profession. In social media circles, the critical reflection over the milestones of 2012 seems focused on misuse of social media channels, in particular Twitter. 

Inc. Magazine, for example, recently published the 7 Worst Tweets of 2012. I highly recommend this appalling collection of stupidity and marketing misfires to anyone who has any opinion whatsoever of social media. Unfortunately, the collection confirms the worst suspicions of the “late adopters” who will maybe, possibly, try social media as soon as they get rid of their rotary dial telephone. Just as unfortunately, the article confirms that those of us who believe in and advocate for social media have very, very far to go in professionalizing the whole endeavor. 

The most recent examples prove a most important point: Traditional marketers, regardless of their other considerable gifts, probably shouldn’t be in charge of social media. They just don’t seem to understand a conversation other than one in which their intended audience responds by saying, “Yes, I will buy your stuff!” Gap social media

How else to explain the huge gaffes made by American Apparel and The Gap in the wake of Superstorm Sandy? In each case, those running the Twitter channel for the retailers thought the storm was a GREAT opportunity to suggest a conversation in which their audiences would BUY THEIR STUFF! American Apparel’s tweet featured a map of the United States with the words: “In case you’re bored by the storm EVERYTHING 20% OFF IN THE NEXT 36 HOURS.” The Gap’s offending tweet wasn’t much better: “All impacted by #Sandy stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of shopping today, how about you?” 

american apparel social media

These social media gaffes are more than shameful examples of what not to do with Twitter. They are indictments of professionals who don’t understand a tool and are misusing it. Just because “anybody can have a Facebook page” doesn’t mean everybody should have one. And just because a trained professional may understand TV advertising or direct marketing doesn’t mean they will automatically understand, let alone master, a two-way communication medium, which is exactly the most important distinguishing characteristic of ALL social media channels. 

Who understands two-way conversation best among all the marketing or communications disciplines? Those who have been dealing with opinionated, recalcitrant or skeptical audiences since long before Twitter was born. Those people are well-trained public relations professionals. To the best of these professionals, two-way communication, whether it’s with a skeptical employee group or a journalist is just that: a dialogue, involving give and take. And guess what, many of those conversation go far beyond the one-track “buy my stuff” mantra. 

This is why our firm has put so much emphasis on hiring, training and showcasing the talents of professionals who understand two-way communication. It’s why our work with clients has focused on helping them to build true dialogue with the audiences that are important to them. Guess what? Sometimes, those conversations are about sales. A lot of times, they aren’t. Because any real relationship has more than one facet. 

If your year-end plans include a little contemplation, your organization’s approach to social media engagement might be a great topic. If you believe it is, here’s a great conversation starter for you, a collection of free tools we use to help our clients engage in social media in a way that delivers results.


Paul Furiga is president and CEO of WordWrite CommunicationsPaul FurigaYou can find him on Twitter @paulfuriga.

Topics: social media